Best time to travel to Japan

Whale Watching

A wonderful alternative to whaling from Hokkaido to Okinawa

Whale watching in Japan is a relatively new activity that successfully replaces whaling. Hundreds of thousands of tourists join whale watching trips bringing money into the country and saving whales at the same time. Giant marine mammals can be spotted throughout the year all around the coastline of the country from as north as Hokkaido to as south as Okinawa. Some of the destinations are quite distant but worth time and money. The top five places for whale watching include Kerama Islands, Ogasawara Islands, Choshi, Rausu, and Kuroshio-cho.

One of the best destinations to encounter the giants of the ocean is the Kerama Islands. The archipelago of small islands is set 40 km (24.9 miles) west of Naha City, Okinawa prefecture. Its transparent surrounding waters are famous with tourists, divers in particular, and lately also whale watchers. They flock between winter and spring for hundreds of Humpbacks breeding in the area. During the season, whale watching boats depart daily from Okinawa Island or Zamami Island.

Another whale place is Ogasawara Islands in Tokyo prefecture, namely Chichi-Jima and Ha-ha-Jima. The group of more than 30 little islands is located 1,000 km south of central Tokyo. The cruise from Tokyo departs 4-6 times per month and lasts 25 hours. Due to such isolation, the area boasts a truly unspoilt nature. Humpbacks are observed in winter and spring months, with the highest chance in February–April, while Sperm whales are year-round residents here. The luckiest visitors might also spot Bryde’s whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales, and Short-finned pilot whales.

Whale watching in Chichi-jima, Bonin Island 2020
Whale watching in Chichi-jima, Bonin Island

Whoever doesn't fancy long-distance boat rides, can surely opt for Choshi in Chiba prefecture. This old fishery town is located only two hours from Tokyo by bus or train. Whale watching tours run in November, December, and sometimes January, which is the season for Short-finned pilot whales and Sperm whales.

Rausu is a north-eastern destination for whale watching. It's located on the Pacific Ocean side of Hokkaido, on the Shiretoko Peninsula, which has been recognized as a world heritage site since 2005. Different whale species may be observed in the area between March and September: Baird’s beaked whales show up in March, April, August and September; Killer whales (orca) are mostly spotted in April, May, and June; the season for Minke whales is May to July; Sperm whales can be seen between July and September.

Whale watching in Rausu, Hokkaido 2020
Whale watching in Rausu, Hokkaido

At last, Kuroshio-cho in Kochi prefecture is a year-round home to Bryde’s whales. Nevertheless, tours run mainly between April and late October. Local whales are particularly friendly to tourists and occasionally might approach nearly within your reach.

Tour providers encourage to wear comfortable shoes and proper outfit in case of chilly and windy weather. Sunscreen and seasick remedies are also reasonable. You also have to be aware of the fact, that despite a high probability of sighting, there's never a 100% guarantee.